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The Spirit Is Willing but the Flesh Is Weak

March 31, 2021

“And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’” - Mark 14:32-42

Many good Christian people like to skip Holy Week and just celebrate Easter. It is understandable, especially as we read passages like this. How could the Son of God be on his face in the garden pleading with the Father to remove this cup from him? Jesus genuinely wrestled with the Father in prayer that night. He knew the physical and spiritual anguish that lay before him. In the garden, we see his pain as well as his faithfulness. In his pain, Jesus continued to pray to his Father as well as to submit to his Father. This was no easy submission; instead, Jesus would demonstrate the cost of obedience in following the Father’s will for him.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we also see the contrast between the prayer life of Jesus and the prayer life of Peter, James, and John. Jesus asked for his closest friends to remain with him, to watch for him, and to pray for him and with him. Despite the urgency of Jesus, the disciples found it impossible to keep their eyes open. Instead of serving Jesus, these men ended up serving the desires and demands of their flesh. Jesus spoke to this failure of his disciples: “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (verse 38). Being in human form, Jesus fully understood the desires of the flesh and the opposition between the flesh and the spirit. His words were certainly words of disappointment in these friends but were also teaching words for their upcoming ministries.

This text calls us to truly see the agony of our Savior. Like us, Jesus did not want to feel the physical pain of the cross nor did he want to feel the anguish of the sins of the world coming upon him. Despite his fleshly desire to escape the cross, Jesus remained steadfast in his submission and obedience to the Father. His perfect example challenges us to consider when we are called to submit and obey. It is unlikely that we will be called to die on a cross and impossible that we could take the sins of the world upon us. Instead, we are called to live set-apart lives for Christ. Sometimes that means choosing a career that is not heralded by the world, not engaging in a lifestyle of comfort or pleasure, not being intent on fulfilling our plans and purposes.

While we want to turn away from this harsh reality of Jesus, the Holy Spirit calls us to hear, to feel, and to align our lives with the Lord. We find that alignment in the same way Jesus did: prayer, submission, and obedience. Through this alignment with the Lord, we can choose a different way than the disciples in this passage. We can choose to deny the flesh and to heed the way of the Spirit. The invitation of Lent is to do just that.

May this Holy Week be a week in which we more fully commit ourselves to prayer, submission, and obedience to the Father.

How do you respond to this pain of Jesus in the garden? Do you recognize that he endured all this pain for you, out of love and a desire to have an eternal relationship with you?

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